“The baby can still stay in right? It doesn’t need the water?”
At that moment I was knee deep in denial, trying to rewrite the mechanics of childbirth in my head. Water breaks...but that doesn’t mean I’m going into labor, right?
It was a normal evening at home with my husband. I’d had a bit of a stomach cramp that day, but nothing too alarming. My husband made me a platter of finger food, long ago giving up on anything elaborate. Chances were likely that I would only keep half of it down anyway. Morning sickness had been my personal enemy since the very beginning of my pregnancy and as we looked forward toward the homestretch, it hadn’t gotten any easier. So chicken nuggets and mozzarella sticks it is!
We sat together, chatting about the day and eating dinner on the couch when I suddenly feel the whoosh. I stop and cringe inside. I had just peed myself, right? I’d heard plenty of pregnancy horror stories. And lately, all it took was for me to stand up and I immediately had to pee. Even if I had just peed, I had to pee. I grab my husband’s hand.
“Honey, I either peed myself or...”
Reality hits me like a lightning bolt. “Or my water just broke.”
I stand up and feel another whoosh. And another. No one tells you that your water can feel like it’s breaking multiple times. I thought it was a one and done sort of thing.
My husband is panicking on the edges but keeping it together for me. He goes into action mode and calls the OBGYN’s after-hours line. Now he’s on the phone with a doctor we’ve never met who’s telling us to forget every plan we’d made, we were going to a hospital we never toured before and this baby was being delivered in their NICU.
“Are you sure the baby can’t still stay in? It’s too early...”
Thirty-five weeks to be exact. That’s five whole weeks early. I begin to hyperventilate a little. Luckily, we had randomly decided to pack our hospital suitcases the night before. We call my best friend as we gather our belongings. When I try to tell my BFF what’s happening it comes out in nonsense sobs. “I can’t understand you...” she asks me to put my husband on the phone. He grabs it from me and gives her the address of our new hospital. And we’re off!
“So the baby has to come out? But we’re at thirty-five weeks!” I continue to circle around this number. Thirty-five weeks in and five weeks to go. Maybe even seven...people had been telling me that most first babies can be up to two weeks late.
We arrive in the emergency room at the hospital we never toured and the doctor we never met apparently called ahead for us. They usher us immediately into Labor and Delivery. The nurses are warm and reassuring.
They start asking me questions. “When and what was the last meal you ate?” Do I really have to admit to the chicken nuggets and mozzarella sticks? They ask us questions that we can’t answer.
“Who is your pediatrician?” “We thought we had five more weeks,” we answer. “What about the epidural?” “I hadn’t decided my birth plan yet! I had five more weeks!” I answer. After the contractions intensify, I find this question easier to answer. “Epidural please!”
Things start to get blurry and rushed as my contractions intensify. This baby will be here very soon, the nurses tell me. An angelic labor nurse becomes my new best friend as we start labor. And keep laboring. There’s so much labor, but very little progression. The baby had been in a hurry to get out, but now there seems to be a problem.
They monitor another contraction, which I feel intensely on my hip. I may have been unsure about that epidural, but I swiftly became its number one fan. However, nothing was going as planned. I had intently studied childbirth books and cross-examined friends with babies so that I could feel fully prepared. And suddenly that preparation felt meaningless. The epidural was working, except for a small window on my hip. This is where I felt all the labor pain during each contraction. Better than my whole body, but not the magical epidural I had first experienced or been promised.
The baby is “distressed” they said. I felt the panic inside me grow exponentially as my husband gripped my hand. They were calling my doctor and I was likely going to be having an emergency c-section. I start to shake, either from adrenaline or anxiety or both. As they give me more anesthesia, I feel the pain subside, but the anxiety increase. While my lower half goes numb, I’m shaking uncontrollably from the waist up. The anesthesiologist reassures me this is normal. My husband tries hard to hold my hand and be my rock.
“This isn’t supposed to be happening. We have five more weeks,” I say to no one in particular. Maybe I’m stating it once again for the record.
A fifteen minute procedure, a few internal organs moved around, and one baby extraction later...our little four pound girl is out and crying in that way that makes you happy because you know they’re with you. There is nothing on the planet like that sound.
They take her away to evaluate her Apgar score and make sure everything is okay. They start to notice a funny sound when she cries. As I lie in the recovery room, they come in with her and tell me that while she is doing quite well given that she’s early, her lungs need some more attention. She is going to the NICU where they will take good care of her. My husband can visit her later that day, but I’ll have to wait until I’m off of the IV’s. We’re wheeled into our hospital room, without the baby. She had been tucked inside of me for so long and now that she is finally outside, it is devastating to be separated from her. I start to cry in our hospital room. The nurse explains between the NICU and the hormones, sobbing was pretty much par for the course and a very natural response to our circumstances.
I’m released five days later, but baby girl had to stay an additional five. Leaving the hospital without your infant is not what you plan for or ever expect. Pumping breast milk, properly freezing it, and bringing it to the hospital several times a day is not what you expect. Seeing your child in an incubator hooked up to various IV lines and monitoring devices is not what you expect.
Our experience turned out perfectly fine. She came home, tiny but fierce. And now she’s our four-year-old wild-child – still tiny but oh so fierce. As a type-A uber-neurotic planner, my childbirth experience tested my coping abilities on every level. But it also gave me a preview into being a parent. Kids define the unexpected. They don’t want to stick to plans or schedules. Sometimes you can steer them back on track, but other times you just have to go with the flow. My daughter taught me this from the get-go (in fact, she keeps teaching me this), and I want to thank her for that.